Tag Archives: Christmas

135journals: My husband’s first day as a free man

30 Jun
My dear husband will be wearing these glasses every day until forever. Promise!

My dear husband will be wearing these glasses every day until forever. Promise!

Yesterday was the first day of the rest of  Brian’s life. That is to say, it was the first Monday of his life as a member of the retired. What will he do with this endless expanse of possibility? Right now, his intention is to keep it open. He hasn’t spent the last whatever years of his life teaching Asian literature for nothing. The beautiful spareness of Chinese poetry pulls at his heart. So does the Japanese concept of Ma, or negative space. Although, in the Japanese thought Ma has a much more dynamic and interactive meaning than not being. It is part of the fabric of the whole, a part of the dance of possibilities. Oh dear, I am getting very abstract here. What I mean is, my husband is bravely trying to let himself be open and to find out what calls to him. And I am very interested to see what this human being to whom I’ve been married for the past 30 years is going to discover.

His first no-longer-employed Monday was not entirely filled with Ma. I had an appointment with a famousy-famous hip surgeon to see if I needed hip surgery at the famousy-famous Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan. I didn’t think I needed hip surgery, but another one of my doctors thought, well, maybe, I don’t know, just check it out, so grumblingly, I did. I reorganized my gigantic binder of tests and visits and brought it in. And this time, I brought Mr. HH with me. Despite my relative certainty that I wouldn’t need surgery (maybe some kind of injection though because of osteoarthritis?) I did feel afraid. I’ve gone to many scary doctor appointments by myself, and most of the time I’ve managed okay, but sometimes I come out of them with this jumble of notes that don’t make any sense because I’ve felt a rushing of panic clogging my ears when the doctor was giving me information. So the dear husband and I agreed that he would come to scary appointment and be a second set of ears for me. Anyway, I had some X-rays, talked to perfectly nice doctor, don’t need surgery, then husband and I had a pleasant walk around the Upper East Side.

“Look at that building,” Brian said, pointing to an old brick building. “A Czech gymnasium. I see a lot of Czech names around here” (near 70th and York).

“I think  a lot of Czechs and Germans settled this neighborhood,” I said. “Every part of Manhattan is so different.”

“It’s so different when you walk it,” he said.

“I know what we should do!” I said. “We should get a big map of Manhattan and get a yellow marker and color in every street we walk after your retirement. And we should walk every street in Manhattan!”

“Where does anybody even get a map nowadays?” he said. “Everybody has GPS.”

“Huh.” I was stumped, too. Maybe off the internet? Barnes and Noble? I don’t know.

He looks at his phone. “There’s a gourmet shop ten blocks away. We can get cheese.” Cheese is part of his holy trinity of consumables, along with coffee and bread. So we wandered uptown past more stores. We people watched. I saw lots of people walking dogs. I saw a woman carrying a dog. I saw lots of doggy day care businesses. There is no shortage of dogs in New York. And I almost never, ever see dog poop. So, good work, New Yorkers. The Upper East Side is full of uniformed private school kids who burst out into the streets at 3:30 or so, along with moms and dads and nannies with strollers. I see a schlumpy looking guy in a Gilligan hat and pink socks lumping across the street. People wearing neon-bright sneakers–that’s a thing now, I guess. Lots of women with pretty legs and short skirts and little sandals. Workers with hard hats ignoring interested onlookers. Street sellers hawking fruit, scarves, books, watches.

At the gourmet shop we buy two small pieces of ridiculously expensive cheese and linger over other delicious but outlandishly expensive items–gluten free lemon bars, figs, bright red $5.99 a pound tomatoes. As we leave we see the pasta hanging on the line. They had gluten free ravioli for $12.99 a pound. We passed. We’ve made homemade pasta before, but it is a pain. Still, I liked watching it hanging there.

We two flaneurs amble back to our car, driving home through rush hour,  but the traffic still isn’t TOO bad. We listen to a podcast. “The drive was only one This American Life long,” Brian says. He makes chicken and salad and pasta for dinner and I fold clothes. I run off to my book group and when I get home, he is sitting on the back deck in the semi-darkness,  looking at the trees and the sky above.  His hands are folded behind his head. He smiles at me, and in that smile I see a happiness formed of the possibility of a joyful anything to come.

Writing prompt: What possibilities do you see?

Caturday, January 24, 2015: The War on Christmas (Mouse)

24 Jan
Behold. I am Smokey, Vanquisher of toy mice.

Behold. I am Smokey, Vanquisher of toy mice.

Christmas is so over. And I, the mighty Smokey Cat, would like you to know that I have caught and defeatedRed Christmas Mouse, one of the two wily foes that came out of my Christmas stocking (Green Mouse has taken the cowardly way out by hiding under the couch. It’s amazing how many times Red Christmas Mouse has gotten away from me, considering my well-honed hunting skills. So I want you to see that for the record, Christmas mouse has surrendered and is lying on its back in a pose of utter defeat. Should I let Red Christmas Mouse go to fight another day? I await your votes.

Writing Prompt: Mercy or no mercy? What’s a decision where you had to choose whether or not someone or something deserved another chance?

How to make awesome Shibori-style cloth Christmas gift bags that will last forever and ever, amen.

27 Dec
Shibori-style ice dyed Christmas bags by Alexandra Hanson-Harding

Shibori-style ice dyed Christmas bags by Alexandra Hanson-Harding

In my last post, I believe I expressed myself fully on the subject of the horrors of giftwrapping. But did you know that you can have really pretty handmade cloth giftbags for not much money that can keep you from hours of pointless agony involving lost scissors, tape that won’t unspool, and pieces of paper that almost but don’t quite cover the whole surface of the Monopoly game box? Here’s how I did it (thanks to an at class I took this fall):

1. Buy some plain white cotton gift bags. You can get them at craft shops such as A.C. Moore or Michaels (for about $3). I got some at a store near us called Amazing Savings (3 for $2.99). I also got some from save-on-crafts.com (they have a number of different kinds of bags, including twelve 10-inch cotton drawstring bags for about $9), and I may have purchased some from Oriental Trading company (http://www.orientaltrading.com (12 DIY large tote bags for $20). The important thing is that they should be made of a natural fabric, probably cotton or linen. Any size will do–in fact, some places sell tiny little bags that turn out to be surprisingly useful for gift purposes.

2. Ideally, you should wash the fabric in a special detergent called synthrapol (available through such suppliers as Dick Blick  (http://www.dickblick.com).  I didn’t do it and it came out fine, but it is preferable. While you’re shopping, you’ll also need soda ash and procion dye. What is procion dye? I don’t know what to tell y’all except that it’s a special kind of powdered dye that I could only find at Dick Blick –A.C. Moore and Michael’s failed me. (This will explain more: http://www.dickblick.com/products/jacquard-procion-mx-fiber-reactive-cold-water-dye/). For this project, I specifically chose Fire Engine Red and Forest Green. But I did not mix those two together in one batch, because those colors could mix and become muddy. If you’re going to mix colors, it’s better to stay w

soaking cloth in soda ash water

This action shot (note blurry artistic quality) shows a bucket of cloth being soaked in soda ash. Note that this process is messy. Also note that there is a container of procion dye sticking out from under the bottom.

ith either yellow-orange-red-brownish hues or blue-green-purple hues, because the different colors will enhance each other. I made two different batches.  By the way, each container of dye costs about $4.50ish.

3. Okay, now, ready for fun? Following directions on the package, I mixed up a batch of soda ash with water and soaked the cloth for about fifteen minutes before tossing the soda-ash water out. (You can soak it longer if you want, too).

4. Then, I tied up each bag into a specific configuration. That’s the Shibori part. Shibori dying is a Japanese style of tie-dying that involves resists. But it’s less chaotic than regular tie-dye, and usually done with indigo. I used several different techniques I found on YouTube videos and in my class–folding the fabric in squares, in triangles, in long back and forth fan folds and so forth. YouTube has approximately seven billion videos on this if you want more ideas. I tied the string very tight. But the dyeing process will still give interesting effects even if you just scrunch up the bags and toss them in the same container where you soaked the bags.

Shibori style cloth tied up

I know this looks like a box of mummified cats, but it’s actually just tightly bundled cloth, tied up shibori style.

5. Now, the really fun part. Completely cover the bags with ice cubes. And then, sprinkle procion dye onto the ice cubes. This picture shows an earlier batch of ice dying, in which I used blues and purples. You can see in the photo that the colors are very dark looking in the beginning as they start to melt into the ice.

Procion dye on ice

Procion dye on the rocks. The dye is just starting to melt into the ice cubes which will allow the dye to melt into the fabric.

6. Next, do nothing. Just stay away from your ice-covered bucket for about 12 hours. Put a cover on it if you have pets just in case, because (don’t read this out loud) pets are d-u-m-b. Oh, and speaking of dumb, I should have told you that back in step 5, you might want to think about wearing gloves or you’ll have hands that look as if you’ve dipped them in blood.

6. Now, take your pieces out of the bucket, and unwrap them while rinsing them under cold water until the water is clear. You will see how the Procion dye has colored your fabric. I really like the way mine turned out. I hope you like yours, too. (see results, at top).

7. You don’t really have to do anything else, but it doesn’t hurt to iron your dyed fabric (with a piece of newsprint over it to keep dye from leaching into the iron), and don’t put it into the washing machine with other stuff until you’re sure it won’t run any more.

tin can tied with dyed string

Don’t get excited yet, Mom, but this dyed-string tin-can pen holder is heading your way!

8. Oh, and tying up the fabric with string or yarn yields a bonus: dyed string that you can use for other projects. I’m making my mommy a pen holder from a tin can and that string (and Mod Podge, of course). Will she love it? She has to. She’s my Mom!

So, 135journalistas, I hope that you won’t have a frustrating December 24, 2015 and that you can easily toss whatever gifts you have into pretty little bags like these. And the good news is, you have 363 days to prepare!

Writing Prompt: What would you like to do differently next holiday season that you didn’t do this season.

Meet The Laziest Goldarn Gift-Wrapper of All Time

26 Dec
Cat inspects present wrapping

Thelonius Monk inspects the present wrapping at the HH house, which is up to standards thanks only to the efforts of Mr. HH.

Do you hate wrapping? I mean, HATE it? You may think you do. But I defy you to be more of a hater than yours truly. In my family, we have a custom of wrapping as many presents as we can stand to wrap at holiday time, then resorting to other, more desperate measures as the clock ticks down to 0 hour, Christmas morning. This is what we call “Hanson Wrapping.” And I am the most Hansonist Hanson Wrapper of them all. So what happens? First, we start going for the paper Christmas bags with tissue inside. Then, we start melting down and NOT putting the tissue paper in. Too complicated! We might resort to smoothing some aluminum foil over the top—yeah. I’ve done that. Or throwing the present into a garbage bag and putting a ribbon around the top. Then, we’ll get too lazy for the ribbon. We’ll get to the point of taking the present out of the Marshall’s bag and shoving it into the Gap bag so at least our giftee will think his or her present is a little classier. Finally, to heck with it. Here’s the Marshall’s bag. We’ll just throw the other presents on top. This year, I wrapped what seemed like a monstrous number of presents but I found a genius solution of buying two large storage tubs in Christmas colors, one for each son. That way, I could let the final unwrapped presents sink to the bottom and cover them with layers of wrapped, or rather, bagged, presents. The kids could keep the storage tubs or not—we could put ornaments in there if they didn’t want them. I should have put a nice tag on each container, but I was fried, man. It’s not easy being Santa’s little helper. I did manage to write one son’s name on a paper towel and put it on top of his tub. At least that way the other one could figure out by his mighty powers of deduction which container was his. I seriously defy you to be lazier than that. But I did do one smart, non-lazy thing this year. I made cloth Christmas bags that can be reused for ever and ever. I even made some to give away.. In my next post I will share how you, too, can make nice Christmas bags for very little money and save yourself the hateful agony that is wrapping.

Writing Prompt: How do you feel about present wrapping? Art form or pain in the neck?